Science Fiction Studies

#52 = Volume 17, Part 3 = November 1990


More (on) Revisions of ``The Country of the Blind''

Patrick Parrinder's interesting article (in SFS no. 50) describing the manuscript variations which preceded the 1904 publication of H.G. Wells's ``The Country of the Blind,'' and his laudatory citation of critics' admiration for the story's conclusion, leaves the impression that its ending represents the author's final decision. This is not so, as I pointed out nearly 50 years ago (``Concerning `The Country of the Blind','' Fantasy Commentator, 1 [1944]:74-76).                

In 1939 Wells revised the story extensively. This revised (and final) version was published by the well known Golden Cockerel Press in an edition limited to 280 copies, which included for comparison as well the original (1904) text. (The 1939 text, including Wells's introduction, may also be found in Masterpieces of Science Fiction, ed. Sam Moskowitz [Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1966], pp. 313-53; Hyperion Press's reprint of this volume [Westport, CT: 1974] may still be available.) Wells added some 3000 words in this version, chiefly to the ending. Here, instead of abandoning Medina-saroté and her people, Nunez suddenly notices that a serious fault-line has developed in the precipices surrounding the valley since his arrival. This can mean but one thing: the destruction of the Country of the Blind through collapse of rock upon it. Nunez's attempts to warn the inhabitants prove useless; they regard his excitement over this danger as the final proof of his mental derangement, and drive him from the village. The overhanging precipice does slide into the valley, and in the final moments Nunez and Medina-saroté escape to the outer world through the newly-created rift, eventually reaching civilization. The two marry and settle in Quito with Nunez's family, Nunez becoming a prosperous tradesman.                

The couple have four children, all normally-sighted. Medina-saroté, however, still silently mourns the loss of her peaceful and isolated life in the valley. Furthermore, she refuses to consult oculists who might restore her sight. When told of the beauty and loveliness of the world which sight would reveal, she replies: ``It may be beautiful...but it must be very terrible to see'' (p. 45).                

In his introduction to the Golden Cockerel Press edition Wells states very clearly what he intended to express not only in his latest revision but in the 1904 text of the story (and it is not, as Parrinder implies in the final paragraph of his article, the idea of being ``torn between social responsibility and manic individualism''). There he says that in the 1904 version

...the stress is upon the spiritual isolation of those who see more keenly than their fellows and the tragedy of their incommunicable appreciation of life. The visionary dies, a worthless outcast, finding no other escape from his gift but death, and the blind world goes on, invincibly self-satisfied and secure. But in the later story vision becomes something altogether more tragic; it is no longer a story of disregarded loveliness and release; the visionary sees destruction sweeping down upon the whole blind world he has come to endure and even to love; he sees it plain, and he can do nothing to save it from its fate. (p. 8)

My article in Fantasy Commentator discussed the significance of this in terms of Wells's philosophy, concluding that ``...the tragedy that visits on the Country of the Blind is nothing less than a measure of punishment, an allegorical lashing which Wells feels the world of reality richly deserves'' (p. 76) -- A. Langley Searles, Bronxville, NY


Gernsback, His Editors, and Women Writers

I was very pleased to read in your July issue the article by Jane Donawerth on Lilith Lorraine, an early female SF writer who has long intrigued me. I think Donawerth is quite right to describe Lorraine as a ``feminist socialist'' writer, as exemplified by her two early SF utopias, ``The Brain of the Planet'' and ``Into the 28th Century.'' However, I think she might be wrong to suggest (admittedly, in passing) that Hugo Gernsback, in whose publications these stories were printed, was responsible for their appearance. Rather, I believe this credit should go to the almost forgotten David Lasser, who edited Gernsback's publications at that time and who was at least partly responsible for the fact that, as Donawerth says, ``The Feminist utopia continued in the pulps even though it virtually disappeared in the hardback book trade...''                

The last issue of Amazing Stories Gernsback put out, before losing it through bankruptcy proceedings, was that of April 1929. He quickly formed the Stellar Publishing Corporation; and in June, 1929, his new company came out with Science Wonder Stories (SWQ), the world's second SF magazine. Already on board as the entire editorial staff at Stellar was David Lasser.1                

Mike Ashley and Sam Moskowitz have pointed to correspondence between Gernsback and his authors while he was publishing Amazing which seems to indicate he took a very active editorial role in that magazine. Additionally, Moskowitz, who edited Science Fiction Plus for Gernsback in the 1950s, testifies to the close editorial supervision Gernsback exhibited at that time. But Gernsback's editorial stance from 1929-36 at Wonder Stories (WS) seems much more ambiguous and distant: he seemingly left the great bulk of the editorial work to his editors, Lasser and, later, Charles D. Hornig.2 Lasser, for instance, says that while he edited Gernsback's magazines (early summer of 1929-late 1933), he was ``given a free hand'' editorially and ``had 90% control over what appeared in the magazines,'' the remainder being antiquated European yarns chosen by Gernsback for translation and, probably, stories by Laurence Manning and Dr David Keller, personal friends of Gernsback (Keller was also a business associate).3               

When Hornig took over from Lasser as editor at WS in 1933, he also said that, except for the translated European tales and stories by Manning and Keller, Gernsback essentially adopted a ``hands off'' editorial policy.4 Indeed, the only time Hornig can ever recall Gernsback becoming actively involved in the usual editorial chores was when he wrote the prefatory blurb for Stanley G. Weinbaum's first story, ``A Martian Odyssey,'' an assignment Gernsback otherwise left to his editors.                

That Gernsback had nothing to do with writing the introductory comments to each story at Wonder may explain the perceived discontinuity Donawerth found between ``Gernsback's'' attitudes when he published Amazing and those in WS. The Gernsback who introduced the first short story he published by a woman at Amazing in 1927 Donawerth sees as patronizing towards women writers; ``but he was enthusiastic four years later,'' she says, when ``he'' introduced Lorraine's ``Into the 28th Century'' in the Winter 1930 SWQ. No wonder there was such a changed perception of women SF writers, however, if it was actually David Lasser, then editor at SWQ, who was waxing ``enthusiastic'' over Lilith Lorraine.5               

Nor was Lilith Lorraine the only female author whose vision of a feminist utopia Lasser published. In WSQ for Spring 1930, Lasser ran ``Via the Hewitt Ray'' by M.F. Rupert (a woman hiding behind initials), in which women rule, not in the future (as in Lorraine's story), but in a parallel universe. Lasser, it seems, had a certain receptivity for stories of this nature6 as well as for stories ``with socialism as their theme,'' as a reader complained in the letters column of the October 1933 WS, the last edited by Lasser. Lasser responded to this criticism by writing,

Although this magazine does not indulge in politics, we must, however, look upon the scientific organization of human society in the same light as the scientific organization of material. A society in which the means of production —farms, factories, mines, shipping, etc. are used for the benefit of the whole people and controlled by them under a scientific plan, seems to us to be only common sense, or good science. No doubt the people are coming to realize this, and some day any person who does not believe in such a society will be looked upon as queer.

Perhaps we should not be very surprised at this political stance of Lasser's, for at the time, he was a member of the Socialist Party (as was, later, Hornig, who was also a pacifist); and by his own admission, he was an agitator even before he was hired by Gernsback in the summer of 1929. In fact, he came to Gernsback after being bounced as a technical writer for New York Edison when he protested the firing of several other employees in an economy move. He later went on to lead the Workers Alliance of America, the principal organization of the unemployed and WPA workers in Depression-era America—thus becoming the subject of a 1,500-page personal file kept by the FBI and of a denunciation on the floor of the US Congress as a dangerous subversive. In American labor and radical history, he occupies a crucial place.               

But in SF history Lasser might well occupy just as crucial a locale. If socialist or feminist utopias ``continued in the pulps'' while disappearing elsewhere, as Donawerth claims, perhaps some of the credit should go to David Lasser, the socialist editor who made it possible for the utopias of Lilith Lorraine to appear at all. -- Eric Leif Davin, University of Pittsburgh
                1For a more detailed discussion of Lasser's tenure with Gernsback, see my ``The Age of Wonder'' (which includes my interview with Lasser), Fantasy Commentator, no. 37 (1987), pp. 4-25, 38-47.
                2I have argued this position, and the reasons for it, at more length in ``Pioneer in the Age of Wonder: An Interview with Raymond Z. Gallun,'' Fantasy Commentator, no. 38 (1988), pp. 78-97.
                3Interestingly, Keller was also author of several misogynist stories which appeared in Gernsback's magazines.
                4See my interview with Charles D. Hornig in ``Age of Wonder.'' Gernsback may have also been responsible for accepting a single story by C.P. Mason, a Gernsback employee who worked as an editorial assistant.
                5Lasser probably accepted Lorraine's first SF utopia also. The Brain of the Planet was published as ``novel'' no. 5 in Stellar's Science Fiction Series, well after Lasser had taken over the helm at Stellar.
                6For instance, ``The Woman From Space,'' by Richard Vaughn (WSQ, Spring 1932), concerning a female-run society, as well as the male-dominated dystopia of ``The Last Woman'' by Dr Thomas S. Gardner (WS, April 1932).

I am convinced by Mr Davin's argument that we must attribute to David Lasser's influence, in part, Lilith Lorraine's publication in Hugo Gernsback's Science Wonder Quarterly and his Science Fiction Series at Stellar Publishing Company. But I am not convinced by Mr Davin that Hugo Gernsback was not unusually supportive of women writers, especially when compared with later editors of SF magazines. In Amazing Stories and Amazing Stories Quarterly, over which (as Mr Davin admits) Gernsback exercised editorial control, Gernsback had already, between 1927 and 1929, published five stories by Clare Winger Harris and one by Louise Taylor Hansen.1 In the Stellar SF Series, he had already in 1929 published When the Sun Went Out by Leslie F. Stone (Mrs William Silberburg). The pattern at Amazing Stories, where Gernsback admits one woman and then several follow, had already been established with his encouragement of women writers of scientific non-fiction in his popular science magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, edited by Gernsback from 1913 to July 1920. In 1918, he invited Isabel M. Lewis of the US Naval Observatory to begin a series of articles on astronomy.2 As soon as this one woman was published, many followed suit: in 1918-19 in The Electrical Experimenter, Gernsback published articles by Grace T. Hadley, Pauline Ginsberg, Dorothy Kant, Pauline Bergins, Esther Lindner, and Nelly F. Gardner. And his popular science magazine seemed to try to incorporate a female audience, for there were many articles on women engineers and inventors, and women who operated radios or the wireless for careers.               

Perhaps we can agree to be grateful to both Hugo Gernsback and David Lasser for their support in educating women in the sciences and in publishing their writing. -- Jane Donawerth, University of Maryland
                1Hansen's story was called ``What the Sodium Lines Revealed'' (ASQ, 2.1 [Winter 1929]:120-38). Winger's consisted of ``The Fate of the Poiseidonia'' (AS, 2.3. [June 1927]:245-52, 267),.``The Miracle of the Lily'' (AS, 3.1 [Apr. 1928]:48-55),``The Menace of Mars'' (AS, 3.7 [Oct. 1928]:582-97), ``The Fifth Dimension'' (AS, 3.9 [Dec. 1928]: 823-25, 850), and ``The Evolutionary Monstrosity'' (ASQ, 2.1 [Winter 1929]:70-77).
                2The first four installments of Lewis's series of articles, all bearing as their main title ``Popular Astronomy,'' appeared in volume 6 (1918) of The Electrical Experimenter on pp. 168-69, 198-99;.pp  238-39, 280; pp. 310-11, 340; and pp. 382-83, 428, 430-31, respectively. (The series continued through 1921.)


Calls For Papers

I am soliciting papers (not more than 30 minutes long) for two separate conferences.              

The first is the annual J. Lloyd Eaton Conference, to be held at the University of California, Riverside, on April l9-21st. The rubric for this, the 13th such meeting, will be ``Foods of the Gods: Eating and Being Eaten in Fantasy and Science Fiction.'' Eating is a powerful, intimate, yet usually common behavior. ``What we eat,'' ``when we eat,'' ``with whom we eat,'' ``how we eat,'' ``where we eat,'' and, of course, ``do we eat at all''—each of these questions the very nature of our existence. Studies are invited which address these and related matters in SF and/or fantasy in any medium.                

The other gathering will take place in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, on June 19-23, 1991, and is meant to celebrate two events of that year: the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation and the opening of the Maison d'Ailleurs, the world's first museum of utopia and SF. Here the subject will be utopia, the good place that exists no place, but also an idea which has a precise—and literary—origin. In this case the questions to be considered include: How did the utopian idea get to be such? Where it is going tomorrow? What are the connections between utopia's past, present, and future(s)? These can be approached by relating to the literary base all subsequent manifestations of utopian speculation: in the realms of the visual arts, architecture, political systems, philosophy, futurology, and scientific method.                

Abstracts of papers should be sent (in time to reach me by November's end) to me at PO Box 5900/University of California/Riverside, CA 92517. Please be sure that it is clear which of the two conferences you are putting in for (you can do this most simply by adding ``Eaton Conference'' or ``Utopia Conference'' after my name on your mailing envelope). -- George Slusser

Miscellaneous News

Just as this issue was going to press a publication arrived entitled Literature & Science: Course Syllabi. Its 300 pages consist mostly of photo-reproductions of 57 syllabi from 56 teachers at 37 colleges and universities (all but one of them American). It is obtainable for US$12.00 from its compiler and editor, Lance Schacterle, c/o Project Center/Worcester Polytechnic Institute/Worcester, MA 01609.

Readers may be interested in the following information about the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. In addition to the Ray Bradbury Collection (literary mss., correspondence, and photographs as well as more than 1,500 published works), the library houses the papers and early sketches of Joanna Russ, the Alexei and Cory Panshin papers, and mss. by Robert Bloch, Joseph Payne Brennan, Jeffrey A. Carver, R.A. Lafferty, Carl Jacobi, and Philip K. Dick. The Sheldon R. Jaffery Collection comprises mss. and associational correspondence relating to all his published works, including his bibliographies of Arkham House and DAW Books, and near-complete collections of both of those imprints.

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